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  The strange, lumpen figure of the Probability Knight and the Guild Secretary scrambled through the endless, dark, labyrinthine tunnels of the cave system. The Knight was oppressed with existential dread.

“It can’t be… these things… what are they? They cannot be…” he repeated over and over, accompanied by soft weeping from the Secretary on his back.

A light trail of blood marked their progress, illuminated delicately alongside the moist Inian tunnel walls by the glow of the radium bulbs within the Knight’s calculator. It continued to display the same steady, worrying message that had been bothering him for so long.

E R R O R

He paid it no heed. The letters were embedded in his mind already. There was nothing he could do to shake the incessant doubt and confusion. The tool was supposed to be perfect – reliable – its failure now, under such pressure to perform, hurt his pride more than running from battle ever could.

After a while, he noticed something new about their surroundings. Imperceptibly, over the last several minutes, the black metamorphic rock of the Deep boundary and the primordial halls and staircases built by those ancient, unspeakable abominations had given way to pale strata of undersea sedimentary rock. Grimy at first, the strata began to glint in the radium light, and eventually reflected enough of it to see that the pair had entered a small chamber filled with damp moss and mineral formations that reached from floor to ceiling. They were closer to the sea-bed now. Perhaps some two hundred levels higher than before. The moss hugged close to the crystals and their barely-visible luminescence that permeated the entire cave system. It seemed tranquil.

He stopped and set the weeping Guild Secretary down gently on the slippery ground, propping her against a mossy, granite boulder. Reaching into his armour he pulled out a thick magisteel chain from within it. He opened his fist to reveal a glimmering StarHammer pendant. He closed his eyes, focused his mind on the pendant in his hand and began a hushed, intense prayer.

“Help me, Master Builder. I do not understand what has transpired. The Adventurers given to me to command have perished, at no fault of my own and the watch no longer shows me the future. The Book of the Builder said that You answer those who are truly worthy. That You would speak to the sons and daughters of the first humans that stepped on Athalon one thousand years ago, guiding them with Your wisdom when they needed it most. You who have brought humanity from the stars; You who have nurtured Humanity through a millennium of trials and tribulations; You who have laid the foundation of the White Cathedraltown of Avalon...”

Beads of sweat formed on the Knight’s head as he directed his terror of the unknown into the necklace, hoping for a miracle.

“Answer me now, if I am truly worthy, for I need Your divine wisdom.”

Immediately, a spark of golden light ignited within the gemstone heart of the pendant and, for the first time in his life, he heard the voice of the Master Builder in his mind.

“What is it, my son?”

The Knight staggered as he heard the words of God in his head.

“What is it that troubles you so? Show me that which you have seen.”

The Knight pushed his memories of the encounter to the front of his mind, hoping they would reach the Master Builder.

After a short pause, “I see,” came the dignified reply. “You have seen the malfeasance at work. There can be only one source.”

“The malfeasance?” The Knight whispered, already half knowing the answer.

“Inian magic. Long ago, I wiped the world clean for humanity, but the Inian pestilence remained, deep beneath the seas. To this day, it corrupts my children. The beings you have seen are its masters. The Inians.”

“The Inians.” The voice of the Knight shook with a more potent terror. “But... had the StarHammer not ended their kind?”

“Alas, my child. The Inians survived.”

One of the Knight’s own memories floated into his mind’s eye. It was different: clarified, somehow brighter, sharper, now filled, he sensed, with invisible patterns of magic. A vibrant, rainbow-colored magic of the Human adventurers contrasted with a thick, black web of monstrous evil centered on two of their adversaries. He recognized them as the two shadows of death he saw decimating his troops as they raced from the chaos.

“What you have seen are Inian clothes,” the Builder continued.

The Knight observed the shiny black suits of the creatures and their glassy helmets filled with floating patterns of darkness.

“An Inian weapon of the Void.”

The Knight’s mind was made to focus on the projectile launcher. It was held confidently and purposefully by the first creature. It was frozen in its single endeavour – cutting down his adventurers – and seemed to be sucking all the colors out of the magic around it with black tentacles.

“The Inian book of the dead; the Necronomicon.”

The Knight saw the Necronomicon bound to the front of the other creature. A pink, vile eye stared out at him from it. He shuddered.

“And finally, the crown of a true Inian Necromancer.”

The Knight’s mind was turned now to the pattern of darkness that emanated from the head of that same creature. The magic seemed to be drawn like countless strands of inky-black spider silk directly from the book to the crown, over which it then spun into a storm of barely-controlled spikes and thick, impossibly black clouds of what seemed like pure evil. The clouds were distinguishable from the acrid smoke by the otherworldly sense they gave him. It was like they weren’t just invisible to the naked, unmagical eye, but also out of naked, unmagical space, superimposed on reality against the wishes of nature itself. This energy was not born in either creature that walked among his men that night: it was draughted from the inexhaustible well of the Deep.

The Knight realised how wrong he had been in his horror in that moment. The truth of what happened was much more horrifying than he could have perceived or imagined.

His stomach turned and he shifted his legs to steady his heavy, tired body.

“My son, you are right to be afraid. The Inian malfeasance is ruthless, and those who control it are naturally the enemy of Celestar. Thus they are the enemy of Humanity and must be overcome. The crown and the Necronomicon together wielded by one being are the ultimate manifestation of true evil – the Necromancer King. This King will try to undo all my good works upon the planet. It is up to you to stop him.”

The Knight gulped.

“As we speak, the Necromancer will be rallying his undead army. Tell my children. Get them ready. Prepare them for the inevitable conflict that is to come.”

With this, the voice of the Builder left the Knight’s head.

The Knight opened his eyes and blinked away the stars swimming in his vision. He had concentrated so hard he was now disorientated in the cave. He turned to the Secretary leaning on her rock nearby. She was squinting at him through the pain and dim light with a clear expression of bafflement.

He collected himself and stood upright, still feeling weakened in the stomach region.

“Ahem… just, erm, praying to the Master Builder for clarity,” he explained, awkwardly. “Now that we are safe, I must send a message back to Surface Camp regarding our discoveries and… losses.”

The knight shuffled over to a similar mossy rock and plonked himself down in front of it with a crunch of armour and a huge sigh. He flipped his magwave broadcaster open to reveal the crystal within. It bathed his face in an unnatural blue glow. A lot had changed since his last update to the surface camp. After composing his thoughts and twiddling a few knobs he spoke into the broadcaster:

“Surface, this is Knight.”

“Go ahead,” a Human voice crackled.

“Be informed that the Deep basecamp has been overrun and everyone has been killed, except for the Guild Secretary and myself.”

“...what?!” came the staticky reply.

“We thought we faced a simple obstacle in the Deep Gate chamber, a dragon guarding a hoard. Dangerous but predictable. However, it turns out the dragon is the least of our worries. The Inians have awakened from their necromantic slumber and the accursed Necronomicon has connected with the dark magic of the Deep. It is a threat that can think and adapt. It is a smart, civilized threat that is able to use arcane knowledge and modern tools."

“The Secretary and I seem to be relatively safe for the moment, but for how long… I prefer not to speculate. We have climbed to approximately level -300. The Inians remain, as far as I can tell, at level -555. If this should be my last broadcast, I must send one important message: prepare for an onslaught of dark magic. The enemy is powerful and merciless. We will need every Isle of the Empire to know this. The armies of the dead will soon rise against humanity and we must stand together to defeat them.”

After waiting patiently for a moment, the voice on the other end responded, “Message received.”

The Knight moved his hand to close the broadcaster again, but the voice came back.

“Wait. Repeat that. You’ve lost the Necronomicon?!”

Irritated, the Knight replied, “Is that all you got from my message?”

“Armies of the dead?! The Inians are alive?!”

“Yes, Builder damn them, the Inians are alive and are coming for us.”

He was getting wearier with every passing second.

“They have a Necromancer King of darkness and everything. We need to get the Empire ready for war. Spread the word. Do you understand me? The Empire must know!”

“But… I…” The voice on the other end vibrated with worry.

The Knight sighed and held the broadcaster closer to his face, as if to increase the clarity of his voice transmission.

“This is an order, parameter zero,” he enunciated to his distant scribe. “Broadcast my message across all magwave channels.”

“Parameter zero… the catastrophe prophecy…”

Losing patience, the Knight exaggerated, “This could be an extinction-level event, you infernal idiot.” That ought to do it. He was far too exhausted and terrified to check his probability watch now for advice. The words of the Master Builder meant more to him, anyhow. “The future of the Empire, nay, the world, depends on it. We must do everything in our power to stop the… Inian… threat…”

Having nothing further to say, and too tired to continue speaking, he closed the broadcaster with a snap.

“Understood. Infoid acknowledged,” came a muffled reply.

The tiny sound reverberated for a couple of seconds and then there was silence.

“What now?” murmured the Secretary a short distance away.

“Rest,” replied the Knight.

“Is humanity doomed?” She whispered, softly.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” the Knight mumbled, then closed his eyes and fell into an exhausted sleep.

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A note from Vitaly S Alexius

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UPDATE:

Our lovely joke writer/editor Kate stopped working due to coronavirus related problems, so this book is on hold till I can find someone else to replace her skills. :[


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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.

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